Friday, September 22, 2006

Cabin Fever

Friday September 22 2006

You never know when you wake up in the morning it might be your last… so enjoy what you have when you have it. You never know when you make a pack trip in to divine Piute Cabin that it might be your last (just for this season!)… so enjoy it.

One more pack trip up the West Walker River to Piute Cabin – this time with first timers: the district ranger, the resources officer, and the range con. You should have heard them when, after 11 miles, we crossed the West Walker and crossed into Piute Meadows and they got their first view of Piute Cabin: “WOW! This is AWESOME!” etc. I was in back, so I couldn’t see their faces.

All five equines got to go in again. We old-timers stuck together: me (the oldest) riding pokey 22-year-old Red Top and leading loaded 24-year-old Brenda the mule. And, by the way, can you believe all 4 of us girls got 2 days’ and 2 nights’ worth of food and gear in a fairly light load on Brenda? We left our makeup and curling irons behind.

The new girls were taken by the cabin and surroundings and were impressed with the traditions that come along with the cabin that were either started by or reverently continued by Tim the last ranger (for 15 years) at Piute Cabin. You cook, wash dishes, clean a certain way; everything in its place. They read journals of the old rangers from the 80’s and admired the rockwork, feather decorations, book collections, fan mail collected over the years for Tim and Piute Cabin. You can’t help but be taken by the character and soul of the cabin and the spirits of people who lived there and cared for it, and the wilderness around it. Like me, now they feel bound to keep up these great respectful traditions, and, the DR noted, it sure would be nice (and, gee, practical!) to use this resource again and staff it with someone who cares.

The next day while the girls planned a day-long ride to Kennedy Canyon to check on a grazing allotment, I’d planned to put in a day of trail work – hike the 3+ uphill miles to Tower Lake and “put the trail to bed” for the winter: clear the trail of rocks and dig out waterbreaks for the winter. The girls would ride Paiute, Tom and Zak while I kept Red Top and Brenda in the flimsy corral and hiked up the trail.

Those plans changed when it took us over 1 ½ hours to catch our horses! The immediate Piute Meadows, where the cabin sits at the head, is ¾ of a mile long. Beyond that is another quarter mile of meadows, and another meadow or two even further up. Two trails continue leading up – the right one to Tower Lake at 9600’ and a dead end, and the left up to and over Kirkwood Pass at 10,000’. Now, since there’s no fences at the far end of the meadows, the horses could conceivably trek on out into the wilderness and end up in Bridgeport or the west side of the Sierras. I see no reason they would do that, climbing up and up when they can stay in the meadows and eat grass all night, but, there is that slim chance. At least they can’t get out the way we came in because there is a (very flimsy) fence there.

By 8:30 AM I still hadn’t seen the horses anywhere in the pasture, so we all gathered halters and treats, and headed out. A good half-mile out there, we did see them, and they saw the 4 of us with halters, and their heads flew up and their bodies poised for flight, because there’s no reason 4 humans would be headed out with halters unless work was involved! Good ol’ Brenda, seeing food, headed our way as I predicted, and Red Top followed. Those two came up and started eating out of the bucket – we got a halter on Red Top, but Brenda grabbed a mouthful and danced away toward the wayward gang of boys who had started loping away for the far trees.

The young range con, full of fire and indignation at those impertinent equines, leaped bareback on Red Top and loped off after the herd, thinking to round them up and drive them in. The herd only thought this was great fun, and bounded to a gallop, disappearing into the forest. The range con slowed Red Top, and he reared and crow hopped (!! We never imagined he had it in him!) – it was a great sight, rearing horse, long-haired girl clinging on bareback, the morning sunlight slanting into the meadow backlighting them with their red manes and tail… but it meant our other horses were quite gone!

I crossed the meadow, waded the river, hiked through the woods and discovered new meadows, and finally, came upon our naughty horses. I maneuvered around them and started herding them back to the big meadows. At 8300’, I jogged, I ran, I gasped for breath, I hollered to keep Paiute going the correct direction, I sprinted, I almost collapsed. The gang eventually, evasion adventures successfully accomplished, walked their way back to and across the river and meadows, toward the cabin and the corral, where I’d left treats, and where they were calmly and happily eating when I finally caught up with them and penned them up.

So after all that running and exercise, no way was I going to hike 1300’ up and do trail work all day, plus I had the feeling that the corral wouldn’t hold Brenda and Red Top after the excitement of running around with their buddies. So, we all went out riding the trails. I hadn’t planned to take the old timers along on a ~14 mile ride, but, there wasn’t much elevation gain involved, so it wasn’t too hard on them. It was nice to ride over trails I’d hiked many times with the trail crew in recent years.

Next day the 3 girls headed out the long way, up over Kirkwood Pass and out Buckeye Canyon, but since that was going to be a hard climb and long day, I took the two old timers out the way we came – the easy way, 11 miles downhill all the way.

Red Top and Brenda and I had the trails to ourselves (ran into only one hiker at this best time of year) enjoying the cool fall day – aspens just beginning to turn, chipmunks (Horse-Eating Chipmunks, I might add!) madly scurrying to grab and store food for the winter, cackling Clark’s nutcrackers, fall breeze rattling the aspen leaves and dried up mule’s ears (Brenda’s favorite trail snack). I bid farewell (for the season!) to Piute Meadows and Hawksbeak Peak, to my favorite huge 4-trunked juniper tree on the trail (which I’ve hugged before).

I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it… but I sure hope I’m on the trail again next year…

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